SEVEN QUESTIONS FOR THE WORKING WRITER: ROSALIE KNECHT
Rosalie Knecht is the author of the upcoming novel Who is Vera Kelly?, one of the Huffington Posts' 60 Books We Can't Wait to Read in 2018, the critically-acclaimed novel Relief Map, and of the translation of César Aira's The Seamstress and the Wind. She was a 2012 Center for Fiction Emerging Writer Fellow and a participant in the 2012 PEN World Voices Festival, and has been published in Stonecutter and The New York Times.
Rosalie Knecht! Do you ever publish your work without compensation or for a nominal fee? If so, why, and how do you feel about doing it?
I don't mind doing it for short pieces, but that's because I have another job.
Does your craft alone provide you with a livelihood?
No. My craft is paying for my trip to AWP this year, though, for which I am grateful, and it paid my rent for two months in my last semester of social-work school.
If you have to hold a day job to supplement your income, or just make a living at all, do you feel you have as much time as you need to write?
I have a full-time job and I write on the weekends. It's not as much time as I would like, but it's enough. At least, it's enough for now. There was a year in my early twenties when I could only find temp jobs, so I would work for a few weeks and then have nothing for a month, and the lethargy and anxiety of that was absolutely worse for my creative output than my job is now. But of course I would like to have more time. A few months ago, one of the teenagers on my caseload came into my office and said, "How many days do you work?" I said, "Five." He said, "I think I would only like to work four." From your lips to God's ears, friend.
How do you know for sure when something in your work still needs another revision?
There's a long period when each and every time I re-read the piece I'm writing, I see so many things to change. The pace of spotting things that need to change slows down after a while, but it never completely stops.
When revising something in your work, how do you know for sure when it’s truly time to stop?
Oh my God, I wish I did. I stop when I'm miserable, and keep going when someone tells me I should. That is a terrible system. I need to better cultivate my inner voice on this topic. It's hard to do that, though, especially when you're first starting out. Many tantalizing visions in the garb of agents and editors will stand before you and say, "Have you thought about making this a multiple-perspective novel?" And you have to have the sense to say no. But it's SO hard! They're gatekeepers, and they're making like they might open the gate! You have to trust yourself. If making it a multiple-perspective novel feels like a bad idea to you, then that person isn't gonna open the gate even if you do it. Or they are going to open it, but you're going to wish they hadn't. Nobody cares about your book as much as you do. How could they? And that means you are the person who decides what it should be.
Do you feel that being a writer was a choice or a calling for you?
It was a calling. And I could try to make a joke out of that, or hedge, or talk about how it sounds pretentious, but that is the answer. I was very secretive about writing for a long time, through childhood and into young adulthood, because it feels too big to talk about, too magic. I'm trying to get more comfortable with talking about it. If it was a choice, I would have made easier choices! For a long time, writing fucked up my ability to think seriously about how to make a living, and how to make a life in a world where I was always going to have to spend a lot of time working at things that were not writing novels. I couldn't bring myself to care that much about things that weren't writing novels, or even hope that I could find non-novel-writing work that could be fulfilling to me, so for years I worked at jobs that didn't fit me, and just thought that was life. But you CAN have it all, kids! You can have a job that you care about and also maintain an active artistic practice. It's hard but that's okay. Everybody works hard. Mary Renault was a combat nurse. She wrote those sexy books on home leave. Dare to dream.
BONUS ROUND FOR PURE PLEASURE: What book did you probably read too young and it therefore haunted you forever after?
I can't remember the title of it. All I can tell you is that I just googled "YA novel Ozarks sexual abuse."